Food & Drink

May 17, 2014

A cook is only as good as his grill, enthusiasts say

Before he really got into grilling, Greg Rowe used to cook hamburgers and hot dogs on a cheap gas grill.

Before he really got into grilling, Greg Rowe used to cook hamburgers and hot dogs on a cheap gas grill.

But then Rowe started specializing, learning more and hanging out with people who have the same passion for barbecuing. Grilling changed for him.

Now “I hate to grill anything that’s run of the mill,” he says. “I get bored with a burger. It’s more to indulge my sense of trying something new.”

Rowe currently has four grills and turns most often to the Big Green Egg, a ceramic grill that is insulated and does a good job at holding moisture in food. He doesn’t like the taste of charcoal briquettes. “I can tell by the smell if they’ve used starter fluid,” Rowe said of cooks.

But many people don’t have the level of interest or the money to move up to the Big Green Egg or beyond. If they haven’t tasted meat grilled on hardwood, they don’t know the difference.

“People turn their noses up at gas. I have a gas grill. It’s easy,” says Jessica Williamson, operations manager at All Things BBQ in Delano.

Even people who have developed discriminating tastes still grill the old way.

“Historically, I’ve used the Weber,” setting fire to newspaper in a chimney to get the charcoal for the Weber kettle grill going, said Ed Frey, a big-time griller in Wichita. He still uses charcoal sometimes, even though he has eight grills and turns mostly to the Big Green Egg.

“There’s times if you’re cooking, you just grab a Kingsford and go,” Frey said.

The more convenient a grill is, the less smoke flavor it produces, according to Gas grills don’t require charcoal, so they’re easier. But they also lack some of that grilled flavor, especially when you move beyond burgers, the website says. Charcoal grills are cheaper than gas, but charcoal costs more as fuel than gas does.

All Things BBQ, 818 W. Douglas, carries a basic Weber kettle charcoal grill for about $80. To move up a bit from that, Rowe says, he recommends the Weber Performer Grill that has a gas start for that charcoal and a work surface for about $350.

But his favorite is the Big Green Egg, which starts at about $700 or $800, with a stand and tools adding to the cost.

“You get really spoiled cooking on those,” Rowe said. “You use so much less charcoal. You can control the temperature so easily. With the Weber, you take the lid off and the temperature spikes 200 degrees in the blink of an eye.” Rowe said he can put a pork butt or brisket on the ceramic grill, leave it for 16 hours and not have to add charcoal. “They’re so well-insulated, you can grill year-round. It doesn’t take any more fuel for those days in zero-degree weather.

“I love the flavor. It seems to lock in more of the moisture, especially in chicken.” The only downside to the Egg is the size, Rowe says; it’s only about 16 to 17 inches in diameter. “When I cook for Thanksgiving, I have to cook multiple times or use multiple grills.”

The Egg burns cleaner and produces less ash, too, Frey says.

Another popular grill at All Things BBQ is the pellet grill, like the one Traeger makes. The pellets are made of wood and come in many flavors.

“They’re fully automatic,” operations manager Williamson says of the pellet grills. “You put the fuel in and set the temperature, and a computer board runs it. You can bake, grill, smoke. ... The controls are a lot like an oven with a bit lower range.” The cost of a pellet grill runs from $1,200 to $3,595.

Frey also keeps pellets on hand to use in his Big Green Egg or smoker for added flavor.

Another specialty store that Rowe and Frey frequent is Waltons, which sells grilling and meat-processing equipment at 3639 N. Comotara.

Tools can make a big difference in grilling, Rowe and Frey said. Here are a few of their favorites, even though they’re more expensive than some grills.

• A good thermometer is essential, “because most people overcook their meat or they’ll undercook it and it flames up, and it’s burned on the outside and raw on the inside,” Rowe says. He recommends the Thermapen, which All Things BBQ carries for $96. “I love it, though.”
• Rowe always has on a hand a “bunch of schedules” – cards that list the recommended temperatures for the foods he’s cooking.
• GrillGrates are anodized aluminum grates with raised rails, which run about $86 for a set of four. “You put them on top of your regular grill grate, and it reduces flare-up,” Rowe says. “Juices drip down into the grate below, and the juice evaporates and steams up into the burger. And it puts wonderful grill marks. I use it for almost everything I cook: vegetables, sliced pineapple.

“Most people are not going to buy something like that. But once you’ve tried it, you’re sold.”

• Frey likes the Looftlighter, an electric charcoal starter that looks kind of like a curling iron. He bought his at Waltons. “It’s got a fan on it. It is the greatest thing, because I can have my charcoal lit and have my fire ready in about five minutes.” It retails for about $80.

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